Federal investigators say American Airlines flight 1400 was lucky and could have ended catastrophically. The National Transportation Safety Board released the results of its investigation into an emergency landing by an American Airlines plane in September of 2007, which took off from Lambert Airport. The investigation blames maintenance workers' actions for leading to the fire and and concludes the flight crew's failure to follow proper safety procedures, caused the fire to burn longer, putting passengers' lives at risk.
Shortly after the plane was airborne it experienced an engine fire that investigators concluded was caused by maintenance workers. Here's how. Investigators said the engine had had repeated trouble starting, beginning 10 days before the incident. Maintenance crews replaced a starter valve six times during that period. On the day of the incident, the engine again failed to start when the plane was at the gate and had to be started manually a second time before Flight 1400 took off. It turned out mechanics had failed to properly maintain a metal air filter, which disintegrated, investigators said. The destruction of the filter led to a series of other mechanical problems, including a bent pin, which helped caused the engine fire.
During the fire, the flight crew made several mistakes that acerbated the problem and could have led to a more serious accident, investigators said. The pilot interrupted his emergency checklist to inform passengers of the trouble, which delayed his shut-off of fuel to the fire and allowed the fire to burn longer, investigators said. The co-pilot was engaged in trying to wrestle the cockpit door closed after the fire partially shutdown the aircraft's electrical system, which released the automatic door lock, they said. The MD-82, a mid-sized airliner, returned to the airport, but fire had damaged the aircraft's hydraulic system so that the plane's rudder wasn't functioning and the nose landing gear failed to extend during an initial landing attempt. A second attempt was successful.
American spokesman Tim Wagner said the airline is changing training procedures for mechanics and pilots as a result of the incident, and hiring more auditors to review maintenance work. The NTSB recently assigned a special team of 17 inspectors to examine American's aircraft maintenance and other operations. The special audit is expected to take about three months.